Although it is commonly believed that there are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, we still don’t know the exact number. Many of the most important chemicals in our body are produced by those neurons. In fact there are chemicals associated with every emotional state we experience. What chemicals would you rather have in your body? The ones that are associated with happiness or the ones that are associated with stress, anger, guilt, etc.? One of the most important chemicals produced by our brain involved in positive habits is dopamine. Dopamine is the fuel that keeps us motivated. When we achieve a goal, dopamine is released in the brain, making us feel good. Scientists have known for years that dopamine is related to positive behavior, pleasure and joy, but recent studies indicate that dopamine is essential for habit formation.
An even more substantial discovery is that we can tap into our dopamine reserves, and release dopamine at will. This is one of the most important discoveries I have made throughout my research. Releasing more dopamine will help you form positive habits by allowing you to feel joy as a reward. However as discussed earlier, you have to keep in mind your long-term goals while focusing on a short-term craving and desires. Focusing only on your cravings (I love hamburgers, so I will have one) may provide you the immediate pleasure, but may also distract you from establishing your desired habits (a healthy dietary routine).
Creating Positive Rewards: Tap into Your Positive Charge
As humans we are designed to work hard, to feel good when we accomplish something, and to feel bad when we don’t. It is wonderful to know that creating a sensation of feeling good is fully within our power. You should create a sense of reward for yourself every time you achieve something. Even completing the smallest routines such as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, driving to work, opening the door for someone—these are all achievements. If you see them as more than just a regular routine, you can potentially tap into your dopamine reserve. And when your dopamine is released, you feel good and are ready to achieve your next goal.
To achieve any large goal you need to break it down into small goals. For example, one of my goals was to write this book. But that took some time, and after two years of research, I had still not written a word. It looked like I was getting nowhere. But my goal wasn’t just to write a book. It was also to complete a number of steps along the way. So I broke down my goal into many daily successes. One of my goals was to write 500 words a day. It was a small aim but by achieving it I increased my dopamine level on a daily basis, and that kept me going until I finished the book.
Build Habits that Perpetuate Positive Inputs and Outputs
Now that I understand this process, I know that there was the time when I worked very hard all day and still felt unhappy with the results. At the end of the day I felt I had accomplished nothing, and would go to bed thinking about all the things I had not completed. I would feel bad, not sleep well and then wake up with a headache…and start all over again. This was a habit of mine that would continue for months and then years. Needless to say, I felt bad about myself, the work I needed to do, and the goals I felt I had not accomplished. Sound familiar?
A friend suggested that at the end of the day, I write down everything that I had done. To my surprise, every time I did this, the list just got longer and longer! Looking back, I now know that by writing down all that I had accomplished I began releasing dopamine into my body. There are many other ways to produce dopamine, such as to celebrate your successes daily, regardless of how big or small they might be. This celebration could be as simple as telling yourself, “I did it!” By breaking your daily task list into small steps and acknowledging every little step you complete will give you a dopamine boost.
For example, if you decide to wake up at 5 AM to exercise, break this down into small steps. First, wake up. Then get dressed to exercise, get a water bottle ready, run on the treadmill for 20 minutes, take a shower, and get dressed for work. Each of these steps is success in itself. By being mindful about each step and feeling good about accomplishing each one, dopamine will be released, making you feel joyful!
What can I do to produce more dopamine and be happier and closer to reaching my goals, whatever they might be?
*Time In is when you stop for a few minutes or more, reflect on the reading, and ask yourself some important questions. The purpose of this procedure is to help you understand the topic you are studying. I highly encourage you to take a moment for Time In.
About the author: Braco Pobric is the bestselling author and a founding member and Chief Happiness Officer of the Institute for Advanced Human Performance. He is Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Certified NLP Practitioner and former globally Certified Trainer and Coach for Dale Carnegie Training. Connect with Braco at: https://www.facebook.com/braco.pobric